College basketball preseason top 25: 10-6

It is the end of October so that means college basketball is right around the corner. What teams should be looked at as the best of the best? This is the fourth installment in the top 25 rundown. For teams 15-11, click here.

10. USC Trojans

College basketball preseason top 25

Bennie Boatwright (Photo by draftexpress.com)

Andy Enfield has built a team that constantly improves year to year at USC. Last season they made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before getting knocked out. With NBA-level talent returning to L.A., the Trojans should be able to take another step forward this season.

Bennie Boatwright is one such player that could have gone pro after last season. Boatwright can do a little big of everything at 6’10” tall, from stretching the floor to getting to the basket. The other NBA-level talent who decided to stay a Trojan for another year is Chimezie Metu. Metu plays above the rim with his dunks and blocks. He also specializes in rebounds. With these two in the game together, there may not be too many better frontcourts in the country. Nick Rakocevic got some playing time last year and will come off the bench once again. For more depth USC will need some other players to fill in.

Jordan McLaughin is back to run the offense at the point. He sets up his teammates well and can also score on his own. He is the Trojans’ best three point shooter out of players who normally shoot them. Elijah Stewart is back for his senior season as well and provides a good athlete and a decent, yet inconsistent shooter. There will be plenty of players vying for whatever minutes are left over. Shaqquan Aaron, Jonah Matthews and De’Anthony Melton all return after playing over 20 minutes per game last season. Joining the backcourt is Charles O’Bannon Jr. and Jordan Usher as freshman. Former Duke point guard Derryck Thornton also joins the team and will be a good player off of the bench.

The Trojans have grown each year and didn’t lose any key pieces from last year’s team. Sweet 16 should be the expectation, but the Trojans can do even better than that if they live up to their potential.

9. North Carolina Tar heels

College basketball preseason top 25

Joel Berry (Photo by ncaa.com)

The reigning national champions should be competitive yet again. Roy Williams put together a good recruiting class and has enough returning talent to make another run in March.

The frontcourt will need the most work to make this team successful. Luke Maye returns after being a hero in the NCAA Tournament against Kentucky. He can rebound and shoot well, but needs to defend better. Garrison Brooks, a freshman, is regarded as a solid inside player that will likely start for UNC. Outside of these two the Tar Heels have other freshman who need time to get better. Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley both have potential and will need to fill key minutes for UNC.

Joel Berry II is back for his senior season, which is the main reason why UNC is ranked this highly. He can shoot, drive and dish to teammates extremely well. He will need to be a leader on this young Tar Heel team. Unfortunately he is out for about a month after losing in a video game to Theo Pinson. Pinson is back to provide great defense and athleticism, but should rely on getting to the basket on offense. Kenny Williams and Seventh Woods return and will need to play well in Berry’s absence. Cameron Johnson transfers in from Pitt and will shoot lights out. Jalek Felton, Raymond Felton’s nephew, will also join the fold this season.

The Tar Heels have a lot to prove without Berry in the first month of the season, but it could help the development of the other players who need to step up. With Berry UNC can play with anybody.

8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

College basketball preseason top 25

Bonzie Colson (Photo by indystar.com)

Notre Dame did lose Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachum, but have had to deal with losing key players before and they still produce. Mike Brey has a lot of talent coming back, including one of college basketball’s best players. If his players can improve year to year like they usually do, Notre Dame will be one of the best teams in basketball.

Bonzie Colson is a double-double machine, who is one of the best in basketball despite his size of 6’5″. He attacks the glass with ferocity to get rebounds and has clever moves to get his shot up over taller defenders. Colson can even step out and knock down shots from the perimeter, making him a tough matchup. The Fighting Irish run a four out, one in system, so Colson will eat up a lot of minutes on the inside. To give him breathers, Elijah Burns, Martinas Geben, John Mooney and Austin Torres will have to fight among themselves for the minutes.

Matt Farrell was one of the most improved players in the country last season and runs the Fighting Irish offense perfectly. He is a threat to score, but feeds the post and shooters well. With him and Colson as a one-two punch the Fighting Irish are sitting pretty. In addition to those two, Rex Pflueger can knock down perimeter shots and defend well. T.J. Gibbs, whose brothers starred in college basketball, will also be asked to step up. Gibbs is the best athlete on the perimeter for Notre Dame. Nickola Djogo and D.J. Harvey, who are both freshman, are going to need to take up some minutes and be productive.

If Farrell and Colson can get some support, this team is capable of going deep into March Madness.

7. Wichita State Shockers

College basketball preseason top 25

Markis McDuffie (Photo by draftexpress.com)

Wichita State is joining the American Athletic Conference this year to see an increase in competition. The Shockers are the best team in the conference and have all of the key parts from a young team that made the second round of the NCAA Tournament back for another year.

Shaq Morris is productive down low and effective when he is on the court. He is the Shockers’ best post player. Markis McDuffie thought about going to the NBA, but returned for his junior season. McDufie does a lot for the Shockers, from being the leading scorer to defending well to being the leading rebounder on the team. He is a star and will improve again this season. Darral Willis Jr., Rauno Nurger and Zach Brown all return after logging at least 10 minutes per game last season. They are good role players that will complement the stars on the team.

Landry Shamet proved to be a good point guard in his freshman season and will be even better once he returns from foot surgery. He has great length for defending and can knock down three point shots. Another three point shooter returns in Connor Frankamp. Frankamp is a three point specialist who knocked down 44% of his three point shots last season. Austin Reeves is the only backup who logged more than 10 minutes per game from the guard position last season. He, C.J. Keyser and JUCO transfer Samajae Haynes-Jones are going to need to step up to provide good depth.

The Shockers are in store for a big season. Not only should they win their new conference, but they should also be competitors on the national level.

6. West Virginia Mountaineers

College basketball preseason top 25

Jevon Carter (Photo by zimbio.com)

West Virginia made the Sweet 16 last season and have a few key players that should be able to lead them beyond this mark this season. Bob Huggins is a Hall of Fame coach who can lean on his returning players to make it far in the NCAA Tournament this year, and maybe beat out Kansas in the Big 12.

Esa Ahmad is a good wing player that can shoot and has great length, which is perfect for West Virginia’s press. He averaged 11.3 points per game last season and should see an expanded scoring role. Sagaba Konate is in store for an increased role, but he will be more of an inside presence focused on rebounding and blocking shots. The offense will come, but with a main focus on those two traits, it will fit West Virginia nicely. Lamont West got significant playing time as a freshman and can shoot from the perimeter, but needs to help in the rebounding department more. Maciej Bender saw less minutes than West, but is a similar player. Wes Harris is a JUCO transfer that will make his way into the rotation early with his athleticism.

The two stars of the team are Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles. The seniors lead one of, if not the best backcourts in the country. Carter runs the point, scores and plays stifling defense. He is the leading returning scorer with 13.5 points per game. Daxter Miles has averaged just 8.5 points throughout his career at West Virginia, but has a bigger impact than that. He is very athletic and is also a great defender in West Virginia’s press. Depth is a question, but James Bolden, D’Angelo Hunter or Brandon Knapper should be able to step in for the few minutes that Miles and Carter leave behind.

West Virginia lost five players who averaged at least four points a game, but return some stars who will be aided by newcomers. Their press will once again be strong and the Mountaineers are looking at a great chance to make an elite eight.

 

For teams 5-1, click here.

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NBA Draft picks by school

Which school is really putting out the most NBA talent?

This new draft class is full of high expectations and has been called the most stacked class since 2003. It is full of exciting players like Markelle Fultz, Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson, Lonzo Ball and De’Aaron Fox. Most of these top picks all came from dominating schools with the exception of Fultz, who won just nine games at Washington last season.

Tatum is from Duke. Fox is from Kentucky. These schools have been putting out a lot of draft picks the last several drafts. Kentucky has had 26 players drafted since 2011. Duke has had 19. These schools put out a lot of prospects, but how are those prospects doing? Let’s take a closer look at how the players drafted from 2011-15 are doing.

I decided not to include the 2016 draft because those players have just experienced one season and still have a lot of work to do and potential to grow. The 2017 draft hasn’t played an NBA game yet. I started back in 2011 because those guys have all played six years and it creates a nice-sized pool of players to look at. Here is what I found.

Kentucky

Out of the 26 players drafted from 2011-15, only three of them have been successful. Those players are Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker.

NBA Draft picks by school

Anthony Davis is dominating the NBA, but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hasn’t exactly panned out as the No. 2 pick in the draft. (Photo from BoomsBeat)

Davis and Towns were both first overall picks while Booker was a 13th pick. Davis is known as one of the top players in the league today. In his five seasons with New Orleans, he has been selected to four All-Star games, two All-NBA teams and two All-Defensive teams. He has also averaged 22.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game over that stretch.

Towns has had a hot start to his career. The 2016 Rookie of the Year has averaged 21.7 points 11.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in his first two seasons with the Timberwolves. Booker’s future is also looking bright as he averaged 22.1 points per game in his second season.

Players that just did not live up to the hype include Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Julius Randle and James Young. For the amount of players they put in the draft and that one-and-done culture, you’d expect Kentucky to have more stars in the NBA.

Duke

Duke really only has Kyrie Irving and possibly Jabari Parker if it weren’t for his injuries. Irving was a No. 1 pick and Parker was a second pick.

Irving got to work right away in Cleveland, winning Rookie of the Year and hitting the game-winning shot in the 2016 NBA Finals to help the Cavs beat Golden State. He also has been named to four All-Star games and one All-NBA team while averaging 21.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game.

Parker played just 25 games during his rookie season, but bounced back his sophomore season with 76. He then only played in 51 games this past year. Injuries have bothered the 22-year-old forward.

When he has played, he has averaged 15.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He just finished his best season statistically with 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Hopefully for the Bucks, Parker does not become an injury prone and can help Giannis Antetokounmpo take the Bucks to a deep postseason run.

Notable Duke flops include Austin Rivers, Miles and Mason Plumlee and Kyle Singler.

Kansas

Kansas always been a good basketball program and has put out two stars in the 2014 draft with Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.

NBA Draft picks by school

Andrew Wiggins has proven he can score in the NBA, but Joel Embiid is still trying to prove he can stay healthy. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Wiggins is developing into a good scorer with the Timberwolves. He won 2015 Rookie of the Year and has also averaged 20.4 points per game over three seasons.

Embiid played great in the 31 games he was able to this past season. He didn’t get to play until this past year due to injuries and was again halted by an injury. If he can ever stay healthy, look out for this man.

Kansas has had other stars in the past like Thomas Robinson and Ben McLemore that did not pan out, but Kansas is not known as an NBA factory like Kentucky and Duke either.

North Carolina

The Tar Heels dominate college hoops, but haven’t put out a star in the NBA in years. Harrison Barnes is the best player they have put out between 2011-15. Barnes still has an empty NBA resume with the exception of his title he won with Golden State. However, this past season as a top offensive option in Dallas, he averaged 19.1 points and five rebounds per game.

Tony Bradley Jr. is the first one-and-done player the Tar Heels have put out in over a decade. Brandon Wright was the last player before Bradley and his NBA career was below average. Hopefully for the Jazz, Bradley’s career is more eventful than Wright’s.

Summary

Other stars from this draft period include Kemba Walker from UConn, Kawhi Leonard from San Diego State, Jimmy Butler from Marquette and Isaiah Thomas from Washington. And that was just from 2011.

The point is just because all these schools like Duke and Kentucky are making noise with their recruiting doesn’t mean that will translate to NBA stardom. NBA talent comes from everywhere. Stars can come from little schools or big schools.

This statement may seem obvious, but the media can really make it look like Kentucky and Duke are the NCAA’s NBA factories. By the amount of draft picks, it surely looks like they should be. But when it comes to NBA talent, that is a different story.

 

Featured Image by Getty Images

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Way-Too-Early Top 10 For the 2017-18 Season

The 2016-17 season is officially over after what turned out to be a different season from what most people thought. However, isn’t that always the case?

We expected Duke to rein supreme yet again last year with one of the most talented rosters we had ever seen. They were ESPN’s number one ranked team in the way-too-early top 25 without question. College basketball proved for the millionth time that what is expected to happen never happens.

With seven months until the start of the 2017-18 season, we take a swipe at the way-too-early top 10 for next season.

1. Kentucky Wildcats 

You know the drill. We’ve seen this before. Kentucky’s freshmen stars are going off to the NBA (De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo) and being replaced with another bunch of talented studs. The Wildcats have the number one ranked recruiting class in the country yet again, bringing in five ESPN top 100 recruits. They also will have redshirt freshman Hamidou Diallo.

Even if these new guys don’t turn out to have the same star power as the players they’re replacing, Kentucky has players like Isaiah Briscoe (if he returns), Wenyen Gabriel and Isaac Humphries who could only step into bigger roles.

There’s no reason coach John Calipari and the Wildcats won’t be national title contender with a stacked incoming class and key returning players.

2. North Carolina Tar Heels 

College Basketball

UNC guard Joel Berry II drives in a game earlier this year (Photo/ Google images)

The Tar Heels are losing a significant amount of players, but hold on for a second. They are losing Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt and most likely ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson. However, they’re still UNC.

Many believe Joel Berry II will come back as well as forward Tony Bradley, who is one of the best rebounders in the country. If that’s the case, the Tar Heels would be poised for another late tournament run.

They will also have Elite Eight hero Luke Maye and freshman five-star shooting guard Jalek Felton. Both could have a significant impact on their success.

There are a lot of ifs, but as we’ve seen, Roy Williams can do magical things with ifs.

3. West Virginia Mountaineers

Besides losing seniors Tarik Phillip and Nathan Adrian, press Virginia is back. Guard Jevon Carter will take another offensive leading role, while forcing steals on defense. Forwards Esa Ahmad and Elijah Macon will be crashing the boards and running the floor both defensively and offensively.

With a Kansas team that will lose a lot of key players, could this be the year Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers take the regular season Big 12 title away from Kansas? It could be.

4. Louisville Cardinals

College Basketball

Louisville forward Jaylen Johnson celebrates their victory over Kentucky earlier this year (Photo/ Adam Creech)

Don’t be fooled by the Cardinals short stay in both the ACC tournament and the NCAA tournament. They are a prime defensive team and will gain three incoming freshmen from the ESPN top 100 and maintain almost the entire previous group.

 

With the exception of Mangok Mathiang, who is a senior, and Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel, who could leave for the NBA, Louisville is still poised to have another great season in 2017-18. If Mitchell and Adel stay, Louisville will be in a good place.

5. Gonzaga Bulldogs 

Enough is enough, Gonzaga is for real. The nation’s top defensive team will look to replace fifth-year senior Przemek Karnowski. The Bulldogs will hopefully look no further than Zach Collins, who could potentially leave for the NBA.

If Collins does return along with Wooden Award finalist Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga will be extremely good. Josh Perkins, Johnathan Williams, Killian Tillie and Silas Melson also all return to make a dangerous Bulldog team out for redemption.

6. Wichita State Shockers

The Shockers finished 31-5 and managed to jump all the way up to 15th in the BPI. It looks like they’re just getting started.

After they were given a 10 seed in the tournament, which many believed was highway robbery, the Shockers lost to Kentucky by one bucket in the round of 32. Don’t let that fool you.

Landry Shamet, who could possibly be the most underrated point guard in the country, along side sharp shooter Conner Frankamp, could take the team on another tournament run. This time they won’t be considered a Cinderella.

7. Florida Gators

College Basketball

Florida guard Chris Chiozza hits a game winning shot in Florida’s Sweet 16 victory over Wisconsin (Photo/ Courtney Culbreath)

The Gators are returning one of the best, if not the best, backcourt in the country in KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza. They will look to top their Elite Eight appearance from this year.

Most of the core crew is still intact. They will add a top 10 recruiting class as well as two transfers.

The Gators are dangerous. This could have already been one of the nation’s best teams. With the addition of the incoming freshmen and transfers, they are only getting better. Third-year head coach Mike White doesn’t seem too fazed after following Billy Donovan and the greatest era in Florida basketball.

8. Villanova Wildcats 

Villanova will wave goodbye to a class that helped lift the Wildcats out of their slump in the 2010s, including Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. Granted, these two are of major importance and have been throughout their years at Villanova.

However, the Wildcats have an ongoing star guard in Jalen Brunson. They also have Donte DiVincenzo, who improved his numbers immensely from his previous year, and looks to improve them next year as well.

Jay Wright’s team is resilient. What many might believe to be somewhat of a rebuilding year could be another year in the limelight.

9. Kansas Jayhawks

The Jayhawks will lose a lot of players, including national player of the year Frank Mason III and potential top five pick Josh Jackson. That gives room for guard Devonte’ Graham to flourish in an even bigger role.

The Jayhawks return sharp shooter Sviatoslav Mykhailuik on the wing and add top prospects Billy Preston and Udoka Azubuike. They will also add Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, who was one of the top point guards in his class two years ago. Whatever happens, we all know one thing: Kansas will be good. They’re always good.

10. Duke Blue Devils

College Basketball

Duke big man Marques Bolden looks to be the new face of the Blue Devils down low after losing Harry Giles and Amile Jefferson (Photo/ Streeter Lecka)

It won’t be all doom and gloom for the Blue Devils next season. They’re still Duke. However, the Blue Devils are going to lose a lot of players starting with Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles, who were their two top prospects from last year. They will also lose senior captains Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones, who have been a source of stability over the past four years.

The Blue Devils do have some top prospects coming in, including Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr. There also rests the possibility of both Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard coming back for another year.

If they both chose to leave, the Blue Devils’ starting line up will most likely have no one older than a sophomore. Either way, don’t ever count out the Blue Devils.

 

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North Carolina and Joel Berry Victorious

North Carolina Wins and Berry Bounced Back

If you haven’t heard, the North Carolina Tar Heels and Joel Berry are National Champions 365 days after losing a heartbreaker to Villanova. Justin Jackson made the go-ahead three point play in the final minutes, and Joel Berry put on a performance. It was not a pretty game, as Gonzaga and UNC combined for 45 fouls and 46 field goals.

Yet, a champion had been crowned.

North Carolina gets the win

This is Roy Williams’ third national title and sixth in Tar Heel history, yet North Carolina didn’t play a great game. They shot 29.4 percent from the three point line, which was very evident in the first half.

North Carolina and Joel Berry Victorious

Joel Berry II celebrates victory over Gonzaga (Photo Courtesy of Sporting News)

The win was a team effort, and players stepped up when they needed to. Isaiah Hicks didn’t play his best against Oregon in the Semifinal, however he added 13 points, which is just above his season average. Speaking of seniors, Kennedy Meeks came up with 10 rebounds for the Tar Heels and was a large presence in the post when he wasn’t in foul trouble.

So what made the difference? UNC grabbed three more offensive rebounds and won the turnover battle 14-4. Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson combined for 38 points while Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski only combined for 24 points for Gonzaga. North Carolina also shot better inside than Gonzaga shot outside. Overall, the Zags had one of their worst offensive showings while the Tar Heels had one of their best defensive performances. Put all of this together and somehow, we have a UNC victory.

The best part for the Tar Heels is they have one more National Championship than Duke. How’s that for bragging rights?

berry got his redemption

It was on this day, just one year ago that Joel Berry II tied the game with Villanova only to lose on a buzzer beater from Kris Jenkins. Needless to say, he has been waiting for this very moment and he didn’t let it slip away. It was a sort of Cinderella moment for him.

North Carolina and Joel Berry Victorious

North Carolina Tar Heels guard Joel Berry II celebrates beating the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the national championship game Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Berry III was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament and when asked about his success, he simply said his teammates had faith in him.

He didn’t just bounce back from last year, he had to bounce back from the previous game against Oregon. Berry II went 2-14 from the field, and 5-9 from the free throw line for a combined 11 points against the Ducks. In other words, he didn’t have the game he wanted but it was enough for his team to be successful.

Fast forward to Monday night, the atmosphere is electric and it’s the junior’s potential last game. Berry went out with a bang to say the least.

He scored 22 points, dished out six assists and threw away only one turnover. Not to mention, he scored or assisted on 34 of 71 points and the Tar Heels came away with a National Title.

As mentioned before, Joel Berry II bounced back, but more importantly North Carolina did.

 

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Tournament Madness for UNC: Luke Maye's Game-Winner

A Closer Look at Luke Maye: North Carolina’s Hero

One name: Luke Maye.

This isn’t the first name that comes to mind when talking about North Carolina basketball. However, it has been for the past 48 hours. Maye made the game-winning shot to send UNC to the Final Four, while simultaneously ending Kentucky’s season.

If you missed the last shot, you can watch it here. It’s well worth watching.

A quick recap: Kentucky comes down the court and Malik Monk hits a 3-pointer in Maye’s face to tie the game. Then Theo Pinson gets the ball up the court for UNC and pitches it to Maye for the last-second jumper. Rarely do you see two miraculous plays back-to-back like that, but it happened on Sunday.

There is normally discussion about Joel Berry II, Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks or Justin Jackson when talking about UNC. The avid watcher might recognize Kenny Williams or Theo Pinson as well, but not Luke Maye.

Maye madness

Luke Maye isn’t your standout player. The sophomore averaged four rebounds and 1.2 assists in 14.4 minutes per game this season. He averaged 5.6 minutes per game as a freshman.

He might be average at the Division I level. However, he joined Christian Laettner and Scottie Reynolds on Sunday as the only players since 1985 to hit a game-winning shot to get into the Final Four. The kid even got a standing ovation at his 8 a.m. class on Monday.

Tournament Madness for UNC: Luke Maye's Game-Winner

Luke Maye shoots the game-winner for the Tar Heels on Sunday (Photo Courtesy of The Comeback)

His best game prior to the tournament was against NC State on Feb 15 when he scored 13 points and made 6 of his 11 shots from the floor. In other words, he hasn’t been consistently “killing it” for the Tar Heels.

However, he has picked the right games to show up for. Maye had a season high of 16 points against Butler and a new season high of 17 against Kentucky.

He might seem like the most unexpected player to win it for the Tar Heels, but Coach Roy Williams had him in for a reason. He shoots 41 percent from 3-point land (the highest on the team). He has only attempted 39 on the season, but he has made those count. He also shoots the fourth highest field goal percentage on the team.

It’s no accident he was on the court. It also isn’t a miracle he made the shot. Nonetheless, he is still a hero.

the tar heels are right where they need to be

As a team, this moment is everything that North Carolina has been working for. Marcus Paige hit a 3-pointer to tie the championship game last year, only for Kris Jenkins to come down and hit a buzzer beater to win it all for Villanova.

The Tar Heels are simply good at what they do. The are ranked first in rebounds per game (they pull down 43.7 per game). They also average 85 points per game (ninth overall) and dish out 18.2 assists per game (ranked third in Division I).

Roy Williams is confident in his team because they have the experience and the talent. This is their 20th Final Four, and they have all the reason to fight.

Isaiah Hicks was asked about their loss to Villanova last season, and he said: “We [were] four seconds away from that. Just to see your dream taken away right in front of you, that’s all the motivation you need. Of course nobody likes to lose, but that one, when you’re right there, all of us, we just need that second chance.”

Hicks and the rest of his teammates want that second chance. At this point, it is in their hands. Only Oregon stands in their way. The guys are playing some quality basketball and unexpected players like Luke Maye are peaking at the right time.

Catch all the action on April 1, 2017 at 8:49 PM ET on CBS.

 

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Duke-UNC: The Best Rivalry In College Basketball

Duke-UNC is not just the best rivalry in college basketball. It is arguably the best rivalry in all of college and professional sports. Just 10 miles apart down Tobacco road, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels prove time and time again why it is truly one of the greatest sports traditions of all time. For a sports fan, attending a Duke-UNC rivalry game must be at the top of their bucket list.

Saturday marked the 244th meeting between The Duke Blue Devils and The North Carolina Tar Heels, with UNC leading the overall series 135-109. These two historic college basketball franchises are top-five in all-time wins in college basketball history with UNC at three and Duke at four.

This past Saturday’s matchup was the final ACC regular season game for both teams as usual. The fifth-ranked Tar Heels defeated the 17th-ranked Blue Devils 90-83 in another hard fought classic.

Duke-UNC Basketball

Luke Kennard and Justin Jackson fight for a loose ball during their first matchup on Feb, 9th (Photo Courtesy of The Fayetteville Observer)

It was an important game for both teams in terms of seeding for the ACC and the NCAA tournament. What makes Duke-UNC so special is that none of that matters.

Duke-UNC isn’t about records, seeding or win-loss records coming into the game. It’s about pride. The thing about Duke-UNC is that one team could be undefeated coming into the matchup and the other team could have lost every single game up to that point. For that one game, it will be played like it is the last basketball game to ever be played.

Blood, sweat and tears is the definition of Duke-UNC. Blood, sweat and tears are usually evident in every single game, or at least one of those.

Neither team has actually met in the NCAA tournament before. Every game they have ever played, with the exception of some ACC tournament games and an NIT game back in the 70s, has been in the regular season. Regular season games are important, but the postseason has historically brought out a different level in athletes. A level in which you see in every Duke-UNC game.

It shows why this rivalry is so special. The postseason atmosphere of win or go home is in every Duke-UNC matchup, even though it isn’t a win or go home game. All that matters in the two games they play each year is winning and nothing else.

The rivalry has produced powerful moments like when Gerald Henderson punched Tyler Hansbrough in the face resulting in a bloody nose and a plethora of heated exchanges. Jeff Capel hit a half court shot to send the game into overtime. Jerry Stackhouse’s had a reverse slam in Cameron Indoor Stadium that silenced the previously rowdy crowd. Austin Rivers hit a game-winning shot over Tyler Zeller to cap a comeback in Chapel Hill.

Whether you like basketball or not, people tune in to watch Duke-UNC. On March 8, 2008, Duke played UNC in Durham, which would go on to be the most viewed college basketball game in history. An estimated 5.5 million watched the game. Even those who don’t prefer sports can appreciate the magnitude of Duke-UNC.

The series has involved some of the greatest basketball icons of all time, including the great Michael Jordan. The likes of Vince Carter, Shane Battier, Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley, Antawn Jamison, Rasheed Wallace and many more have gone on to have successful careers in college and professionally.

Either way the tide turns, Duke or UNC, it’s unlike anything else in college or professional sports.

 

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We Just Witnessed the Greatest Sports Year Ever

Sports are cool, and they’re even cooler when a season ends with fireworks. Thankfully, in the last cycle of season championships, we were able to witness the greatest sports year ever.

From the 2016 college basketball National Championship, to the latest Super Bowl, none of the championships have disappointed. Each of them saw incredible comebacks or last-second scores. As fans, we are blessed to be able to watch all of these games unfold.

That said, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and reminisce in the previous year’s amazing culminations.

*Of the four major sports in the United States, and the two major college sports, only one doesn’t make the list. Sorry, NHL fans, the 2016 Stanley Cup was good, but not great enough to be mentioned on the list.*

Super Bowl LI

It seemed as though the states to the most northeast in the U.S. were rooting for New England, and the rest of the population became Falcons fans for one day.

Maybe it’s because Atlanta was foreign to the big stage. It seemed so weird seeing a team like Atlanta playing in the Super Bowl since we had become accustomed to seeing either Seattle, Green Bay, or New York represent the NFC for more than half of the Super Bowls played since 2006.

Greatest Sports Year

In Super Bowl LI, Tom Brady did what Tom Brady does- win Super Bowls. (Photo: Getty Images)

Maybe Atlanta became America’s team for one day simply because of the hatred spewed towards New England. The Patriots have made seven Super Bowls since 2001, and won five. New England has also been to the AFC Conference Championship game 11 times since 2001. Picking New England to make it to the Super Bowl has become routine for many NFL pundits because that’s just what they do.

Nevertheless, this Super Bowl just felt different. New England was the heavyweight that everyone had seen win before. Atlanta was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and the popular vote was in favor of the newbies.

No one saw Atlanta jumping out to a 21-3 lead at the half and a 28-3 lead as the third quarter waned. At this point, many fans just wanted to see a close game.

We should be careful what we wish for.

The Patriots scored a touchdown late in the third, and continued to mount a comeback in the fourth.

The final quarter was the equivalent to slowly watching a bottle of soda being shaken. The game continued to feel closer and closer, and before long, New England put so much pressure back into the game that the contest exploded to help make the greatest sports year we’ve seen.

In overtime, it was inevitable. Not only did the Patriots have momentum, but they also had history. It felt impossible for New England to lose the game. Coming back from a 25-point deficit and pushing the game into the Super Bowl’s first ever overtime? That’s just not a game New England loses.

Because of the incredible comeback by those darn Patriots, Super Bowl LI capped what was the greatest sports year of all time.

2017 College Football National Championship

In a narrative much the same as the Super Bowl, Alabama took on Clemson to be called college football’s undisputed champion. In this game’s case, there was no insurmountable lead that ended up being toppled. The game was tight the whole way, and was never separated by more than two possessions.

Clemson found itself down by two possessions twice, and each time it seemed like Bama was gonna keep Bama-ing. At one point, ESPN’s Football Power Index gave Alabama over a 90 percent chance to win the game.

But this is the greatest sports year we’ve ever seen, so hopefully you’re sensing a theme.

Clemson came back, led by crisp drives from Deshaun Watson. Watson may not have won the Heisman, but at least he got himself a ring. Watson completed a two-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow with one second left in the game to clinch a victory for the Tigers.

2016 World Series

Where do we start in this event? So many storylines developed by the time the series was all finished. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Finals after being down 3-1. Once the Cleveland Indians went up 3-1 on the Cubs, there was no way that would be blown, right?

Maybe Cleveland fans got what they deserved for making fun of the Warriors. #WellActually when a city has to root for the Browns, it deserves no other bad omens. The Indians didn’t catch that vibe.

Greatest Sports Year

Rajai Davis hit the most memorable home run in recent years. (Photo: FX Tribune)

Sure, our very own Matt Hagan knew the Cubs would win it all. However, since no one else did, the 3-1 series lead all but wrapped up the World Series.

The Cubs almost lost it. They had a 6-3 lead with less than two innings left to play. With the lead cut to two, Rajai Davis sent the world into hysteria with the craziest turn of events the World Series had ever seen.

Chicago had it all but won, yet in two seconds Cleveland was right back in it. A ball traveled faster than offseason Rob Gronkowski on the way to the club into the left field seats, while it seemed like it was in slow motion, even as slow as Tom Brady running the 40-yard dash in fashionable yet exotic khaki shorts.

Every baseball kid dreams of coming to bat in the tenth inning of the World Series game seven, and the Cubs had that chance. Chicago scored two, and took an 8-6 lead to end the top half of the inning.

Rajai Davis came back up in the tenth, and even delivered an RBI. The Indians didn’t have enough in them, as they fell short, 8-7. However, it still was one of the greatest World Series of all time.

2016 NBA Finals

The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead, and that remains a joke on social media to this day. When you think of Steph Curry, you think of triples galore, an outspoken wife and the fact that he was the MVP on a team that for the first time ever blew a 3-1 lead.

LeBron James put on the greatest performance of all time in a Finals series in the most historically-charged Finals series of all time. Kyrie Irving hit the most clutch shot of his life to clinch the win for Cleveland- in Golden State.

The 2016 NBA Finals will be a landmark for the NBA’s modern era. With super teams becoming more and more evident, this series will forever be known as the time the NBA’s Goliath was taken out.

2016 College Basketball National Championship

Marcus Paige was supposed to be the hero. He hit one of the greatest three-pointers you will ever see. Double-clutch layups are hard enough, but a double-clutch three is just stupid good.

With Paige’s shot, North Carolina tied Villanova, 74-74, with 4.7 seconds left. At that point, viewers of the game had to pick their jaws up from the floor. The shot was incredible.

But what Kris Jenkins did carried more water. A deep triple as time expired sent Villanova into absolute elation.

The Greatest Sports Year

Who knew that game would turn into the precursor to what was to come? With all the great games that happened in the past year, college basketball’s National Championship was my favorite. Everyone has their own favorite, and the games are probably split pretty evenly across the board.

This was a year that we will tell our children and grandchildren about. It was a year that probably will never be topped. We should all feel fortunate that we were alive to take it all in.

If anyone can make a DVD of all these games in it’s entirety, I will throw my money at you. So someone please do that.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

National Signing Day 2017: ACC and Notre Dame

The ACC had a great year for football, which was capped off by a National Championship for the Clemson Tigers. Now it’s time to move over to see how the ACC Signing Day has gone. This will be throughout Signing Day. Here is how the teams rank:

1. Florida State Seminoles

Signees: 21, 5*: 3, 4*: 13, 3*: 5, Other: 0

The Seminoles have a solid class that should remain in the top ten, if not the top five, in the nation. Their class is headed by their two five-stars who are signed. Cam Akers is considered by some to be the best running back in the whole class and Joshua Kaindoh is also considered the number one defensive end in the class by some. Florida State targeted a lot of skill position players with plenty of running backs and wide receivers in the class, as well as secondary players. They are in the running for one more five-star recruit and many more four-star recruits.

Top Prospects Signed: DE Joshua Kaindoh (5*), RB Cam Akers (5*), DT Marvin Wilson (5*)

2. Clemson Tigers

Signees: 14, 5*: 0, 4*: 11, 3*: 3, Other: 0

Dabo Swinney has a championship and now, likely has a top ten recruiting class. Tee Higgins is the best committed player so far and will remind a lot of Tiger fans of Mike Williams at the wide receiver position. With Higgins, comes a very talented quarterback prospect in Hunter Johnson. The two will look to be the future of Clemson’s offense. Behind them, Clemson made sure to get depth for the trenches, on both the offensive and defensive line. While there are no five-star players considering them, the Tigers do have a lot of four-star prospects who could sign with them.

Top Prospects Signed: QB Hunter Johnson (4*), WR Tee Higgins (4*)

3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Signees: 21, 5*: 0, 4*: 11, 3*: 10, Other: 0

Notre Dame needs better players after a lackluster 2016 season. They have done a solid job in recruiting so far and are looking to have a top 15 recruiting class. Brock Wright is a very talented tight end and Robert Hainsey is a great offensive guard. Those two recruits are the two best players the Fighting Irish have signed so far. Although the defense was a major problem last year, Notre Dame has a lot of offensive players signed in this class. There are a lot of standout prospects still considering the Irish, so they have a real chance to move up in the recruiting ranks.

Top Prospects Signed: TE Brock Wright (4*), LB Robert Hainsey (4*)

4. Miami Hurricanes

Signees: 24, 5*: 0, 4*: 13, 3*: 11, Other: 0

Miami has a good recruiting class, in large part due to the number of commitments they already have. Defensive end D.J. Johnson is one of the best in the class and quarterback N’kosi Perry will provide an athletic quarterback as the two best commitments. Behind these players Miami has a very diversified class, as Mark Richt tries to fill the roster with his types of players. Richt has a chance to make this class even better by getting uncommitted players to choose the Hurricanes today.

Top Prospects Signed: WR Jeff Thomas (4*), DE D.J. Johnson (4*)

5. North Carolina Tar Heels

Signees: 20, 5*: 0, 4*: 8, 3*: 11, Other: 0

Larry Fedora should have the recruits to feel good about his team again heading into the 2017 season. Billy Ross and Jonah Melton are two good offensive line prospects, while Jake Lawler is a good defensive line prospect. The Tar Heels have a well-rounded class, with plenty of players who still may choose to go to school their.

Top Prospects Signed: OT Billy Ross (4*), DE Jake Lawler (4*)

6. Virginia Tech Hokies

Signees: 26, 5*: 0, 4*: 5, 3*: 19, Other: 2

Justin Fuente has put together a pretty good crop of players for his first full recruiting class. With 27 commitments, they have a deep class. Nathan Proctor is their top recruit and plays outside linebacker. Devon Hunter is also a talented safety recruit. Even though they have a lot of players committed, they have more considering becoming a Hokie.

Top Prospects Signed: LB Nathan Proctor (4*), S Devon Hunter (4*)

7. Louisville Cardinals

Signees: 20, 5*: 0, 4*: 6, 3*: 13, Other: 1

The Cardinals had an impressive 2016 campaign and need some more talent to help them cap off a season with an ACC Championship. C.J. Avery is a safety who will help out with all of their departures in the secondary. Justin Marshall will be, yet another good target for Lamar Jackson to throw to.

Top Prospects Signed: S C.J. Avery (4*), WR Justin Marshall (4*)

8. Pittsburgh Panthers

Signees: 25, 5*: 0, 4*: 5, 3*: 16, Other: 4

Pittsburgh has a good class for Pat Narduzzi’s second full year of recruiting. The class is led by a great athlete in Paris Ford and a good running back in Todd Sibley. Running back A.J. Davis is confident he can have an instant impact for the Panthers due to being familiar with their blocking schemes. There is a lot of focus on offense in this class, which will be beneficial for Pitt, due to a lot of players moving on to the next level.

Top Prospects Signed: ATH Paris Ford (4*), RB A.J. Davis (4*)

9. Duke Blue Devils

Signees: 23, 5*: 0, 4*: 3, 3*: 19, Other: 1

David Cutcliffe has done wonders with Duke and now has a chance at a top 40 recruiting class to help him in the future. Jake Marwede will be a tight end that may see the field early for the Blue Devils.  Safety Drew Jordan and outside linebacker Damani Neal will also have a chance to play next season as incoming freshmen. With a lot of good offensive players in the class, Duke should have good depth for Cutcliffe on at least one side of the ball.

Top Prospects Signed: TE Jake Marwede (4*), LB Drew Jordan (4*)

10. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Signees: 24, 5*: 0, 4*: 4, 3*: 18, Other: 2

Georgia Tech is coming off a bowl win over Kentucky and will be looking to become ACC Title contenders again soon. They focused on mostly defense in this class, but their best player is offensive. Running back Bruce-Jordan Swilling will look to get a lot of touches in the triple option attack.

Top Prospects Signed: CB Jaytlin Askew (4*), RB Bruce Jordan-Swilling (4*)

11. North Carolina State Wolfpack

Signees: 22, 5*: 0, 4*: 1, 3*: 18, Other: 3

The Wolfpack had a good season last year, but is still looking to make their recruiting class better. Dual-Threat quarterback Matt McKay is their only four-star commitment so far, but he should be a good player at the college level. NC State has several other decent offensive prospects in the class as well.

Top Prospects Signed: QB Matt McKay (4*), LB Louis Acceus (3*)

12. Virginia Cavaliers

Signees: 27, 5*: 0, 4*: 3, 3*: 19, Other: 5

Bronco Mendenhall has put together a solid first recruiting class for the Cavaliers so far. Two four-star athletes lead the recruiting class in Shawn Smith and Germane Crowell. There are a lot of positions represented, but if the Cavaliers want to compete in the future, they need to get some more players on the offensive line.

Top Prospects Signed: ATH Germane Crowell (4*), ATH Shawn Smith (4*)

13. Syracuse Orange

Signees: 24, 5*: 0, 4*: 1, 3*: 19, Other: 4

Syracuse may rank at 13 in the ACC, for now, but they have an average class nationally. Quarterback Tommy Devito is their only four-star, but can be a program changer as a signal caller. He competed in the elite 11 quarterback camp last summer. The Orange have a lot of solid offensive players in the class, as things currently stand.

Top Prospects Signed: QB Tommy Devito (4*), WR Sharod Johnson (3*)

14. Boston College Eagles

Commitments: 20, 5*: 0, 4*: 0, 3*: 15, Other: 5

It looks like it will be another year near the bottom of the recruiting ranks for the Eagles. Three-star players C.J. Lewis (QB) and A.J. Dillon (RB) are the best players in the class, but will likely not see the field early on in their careers.

Top Prospects Signed: QB C.J. Lewis (3*), RB A.J. Dillon (3*)

15. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Commitments: 20, 5*: 0, 4*: 0, 3*: 17, Other: 3

Wake Forest had a good season on the field in 2016, but that didn’t translate to the recruiting trail. It will be hard to sustain success in the ACC with no four-star players in the class. Michael Allen Jr. has a chance to be a productive player for the Demon Deacons at defensive end.

Top Prospects Signed: DE Michael Allen Jr. (3*), WR Sage Surratt (3*)

 

Big Ten Signing Day- Here

Big 12 Signing Day- Here

Pac-12 Signing Day- Here

SEC Signing Day- Here

NFL Draft Prospects to Watch in the 2016 Sun Bowl

Christian McCaffrey isn’t playing in this game, which will hurt his draft stock, but there are a lot of other good prospects to watch in the Sun Bowl. The possible first player taken in the draft, his favorite target and the man who will try to stop them. Here are the best prospects from this game:

Stanford Cardinal

Solomon Thomas, DE

Projected Draft Range: Second round-fourth round

Sun Bowl

Solomon Thomas (Photo courtesy: Twitter)

Thomas is just a junior, but has played so well that he should leave early for the NFL draft. His greatest asset is stopping the run. He is decent at rushing the passer too, with seven sacks on the year. Thomas is versatile enough to play in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme at the NFL level at six foot three inches and 273 pounds.

North Carolina Tar Heels

Mitch Trubisky, QB

Projected Draft Range: First Round

Scouts are tabbing Trubisky as the possible first quarterback taken in the draft. Trubisky has great size at six foot three and 220 pounds. He has thrown for 3,468 yards, 28 touchdowns and four interceptions. His ability to protect the football is great, as two of his interceptions this year came in a hurricane. His completion percentage is high at 69%, but that is mostly due to a lot of screen passes. Trubisky also has decent mobility to use if needed. He is the main prospect to watch in this game.

Ryan Switzer, WR

Projected Draft Range: Fifth round-seventh round

Sun Bowl

Ryan Switzer (Photo courtesy: jimrome.com)

Switzer has the makings of a good slot receiver at the next level. At five feet ten inches and 185 pounds, Switzer uses his quickness to get separation. He is explosive once he has the ball in his hands and he hardly ever drops the ball. His added value comes in the return game where he can be lethal. A team that drafts him on the third day of the NFL Draft will at the very least get a dynamic special teams player.

 

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Indiana Reestablished as Title Contender with Statement Win

Eight days after losing to Fort Wayne in a stunning overtime upset, Indiana had a chance to hit the reset button. The Hoosiers lost on the road to the Mastadons 71-68. They then quietly defeated Mississippi Valley State 85-52 at home.

Justin Blackmon Jr. (left) and the Hoosiers were eager to get back on track from their loss to Fort Wayne (Photo courtesy of insidethehall.com)

Justin Blackmon Jr. (left) and the Hoosiers were eager to get back on track from their loss to Fort Wayne (Photo courtesy of insidethehall.com)

The Hoosiers dropped from number three in the country to 13 with questions looming about their true capabilities. On Wednesday night they had their chance with a huge test against the newly third ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. On top of the fact that Indiana was coming off the loss, there was the storyline of the ACC taking control in this weeks ACC-Big Ten inter-conference challenge.

However, an electric atmosphere rejuvenated Tom Crean’s team. Isiah Thomas’ presence in celebration of the 1981 National Championship team amplified the atmosphere even further. Every big play for Indiana was met with a ruckus applause.

The Hoosiers had a fast start in the first half. Junior guard Robert Johnson was key in helping the team jump out to a 14-7 lead. He assisted on the first basket of the game and had with seven early points of the team’s 14. Johnson finished with 11 points, ten of which came in the first half and were key to Indiana’s momentum.

The seven point deficit would be as close as it got in the first half. North Carolina was completely out of sorts as the Hoosiers took a huge lead at the start. The Tar Heels were out of control, made poor shot choices and ultimately allowed the surroundings of Assembly Hall overcome them.

The crowd was a definite advantage for the Hoosiers and several plays made by James Blackmon Jr. and OG Anunoby brought them to their feet. Anunoby was a big part of Indiana’s 41-29 halftime lead. This included a highlight dunk following a  North Carolina turnover before crossing half court. Anunoby finished the game with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks.

Sophomore Thomas Bryant showed his versatility Wednesday night. (Photo courtesy of indianapolisstar.com)

Sophomore Thomas Bryant showed his versatility Wednesday night. (Photo courtesy of indianapolisstar.com)

The second half opened with much of the same story. Thomas Bryant had a fantastic game with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals. This included several stealthy moves near the basket, showing his agility as well as versatility with a three-point jumper that gave the Hoosiers a 50-38 lead at the 14:03 mark.

To this point the game was all Indiana but North Carolina began to climb back. Justin Jackson quietly had 21 points and 8 rebounds. A three-point shot by Jackson brought the game within five points at 65-60 with 3:28 to go. However as was the story of most of the second half, every time the Tar Heels began to come back, Indiana found a way to widen the gap. OG Anunoby took a pass from below the basket, maneuvered to the opposite side of the hoop via the baseline and slammed it home. At that point with the score 71-60 and with 1:35 to go the game was all but over.  The Tar Heels attempted to foul to extend the game but were unsuccessful in their efforts.

What this means: Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana jumps back into the top 10 with this win next week, provided they take care of business Friday against SIU Edwardsville and Sunday against Southeast Missouri State. Even considering the debacle that was their contest against Fort Wayne these games should give them no difficulty. Tom Crean’s team showed us yesterday what they are truly capable of even though there is the advantage of the game being on their home court in Bloomington.

The Hoosiers moved the ball well, easily penetrating the Tar Heel defense at times.  They also shot the ball well at 48.1% from the field. The Hoosiers responded well each time that North Carolina seemed to climb back in to the game. James Blackmon’s three with 3:44 to go is a perfect example. The Tar Heels had taken control for a few moments but Indiana settled down and Blackmon’s shot started a run.

The Hoosiers had five players in double figures showing that they are not reliant on just one player for their scoring. There is only one key thing to watch and that is OG Anunoby’s ankle. He landed awkwardly after a dunk that extended the Hoosier lead to 11 and juiced up the crowd. On the sideline he had an ice pack on his ankle. This should be a simple ankle roll. A bad injury would be a huge blow to this team right after making a statement about what they are capable of.

What this means: North Carolina Tar Heels

Roy William’s team was unable to control the tempo at times throughout this game. The only players that seemed unflappable were upperclassman Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks. Meeks had a solid game with 10 points and eight rebounds. Yet, even Meeks had his issues this game. He got into early foul trouble and played 25 minutes, the lowest of all starters. Jackson was four of seven from behind the arc. Jackson is the player on this team that has the capability to take over a game if need be.  Everything from his stature to his expressions show that he is the guy, but he was unable to pull his team all the way back.

None of the Tar Heel reserves were able to have a large impact on the game. Luke Maye did return to the floor after missing several games with an ankle injury. He was largely ineffective for the short eight minutes he played. Theo Pinson is still recovering from a stress fracture suffered earlier this offseason. He will provide key minutes to the Tar Heels when he returns.

The team played significantly different from the Maui Invitational Champion Tar Heels. They not only failed to score 70 for the first time all year, but also allowed the most points in a game this year at 76. North Carolina did not shoot well as a team and their defense was weak at times. Offense was frenetic and unorganized at times. There were few attempts to move the ball inside to Meeks or freshman Tony Bradley.

This was the first true road test for North Carolina. Their other games were at home or on a neutral court, the latter including the Maui Championship game they won 71-56 over Wisconsin. The team still has great potential even though they will likely drop out of the top five of the next AP Poll.

An Added Note: Jimmy V Week

As an added note, this game was a part of a series of games in celebration of Jimmy V week.  This celebrates former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano who passed away of cancer. For more information about the Jimmy V Foundation that benefits from the event you can visit their site.

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